Long live commissioning! But what shall we call it?

What do you call an approach that moves #publicservices


  • ‘spending money on services to meet needs’


  • ‘intervening and learning in the complex systems that actually shape our lives’?
latest piece in the Municipal Journal

The former sees ‘services’ as the whole universe, brought into being by our public service cash.

The latter sees that people are busy living their lives and that funding is just part of the influence we can have on citizen and community outcomes.

The word we’re stuck with, like it or not, is #commissioning.

It’s been five months since I last wrote ‘it ain’t dead!’ (I checked). And I have to keep saying it.

Yet because commissioning covers that (still vital) process of deciding which services (in-house, outsourced, third sector) are funded and which are not, it still gets bracketed with procurement, outsourcing, and contract management.

It’s much more than that, and since 2011 we’ve been working to show how it much more deserves to be part of #systemschange #systemsleadership and what’s now called #humanlearningsystems

My latest piece in the Municipal Journal is at https://www.themj.co.uk/Long-live-commissioning-/221192

How would you try to get this message across? What would you call it?

See also

Our core positioning piece: ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’


Can commissioning truly start from the assets and capabilities of citizens and communities? As we inch towards the post-Covid era, what opportunities and risks are opened up by the massive release of citizen and community assets during the pandemic?


Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning


We’re hiring! Be at the centre of RedQuadrant

RedQuadrant is looking for a ‘hub’ person, to lead our bid support and admin coordination, working directly to Managing Partner, Benjamin Taylor.

It’s an initial one-year contract, £28-32k with room to grow, remote for the foreseeable future, really at the heart of growing a business – ideally it would be someone with

(1) bid management

(2) admin/operations management, and

(3) consultancy/public sector experience

…but what’s important is hard work and passion to be part of what we do and help us to grow. Please share to anyone who might be interested!


More details:

Full time, remote working for the foreseeable future, initial twelve-month contract with three month probation period, potential to become permanent.

Role to commence first half of May.

£28-32k with room to develop.

You will work directly to the Managing Partner and liaise with service leads and consultants, acting as the reliable centre of the business. This is a role at the heart of a great organisation, with the potential to grow with us and be a recognised and valued leader.

RedQuadrant is a radical, ethical public service transformation consultancy which has survived and thrived in possibly the twelve hardest years for UK public services in living memory (including 2020), and which leads and supports the Public Service Transformation Academy, a not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to building capability for public services to transform themselves. Please check our websites for more.

We need someone extremely well organised, solid, capable, and hard-working to run our bids, oversee our operations, and co-ordinate flexible hourly admin support and possibly interns and graduates, as well as linking to our small finance team.

The primary task is to provide solid backing to our bid process from opportunity review, supplier portal, framework, and compliance management to bid development, submission, and contract signing. This involves working with our service leads and expert independent consultants, and being on top of our existing material, prior bids, and compliance questions, outlining and quality assuring content, and directing process. An appetite for organising the complex and a will to win are critical.

Alongside this runs knowledge management (in Microsoft 365/SharePoint), tracking of other business leads, and maintenance of pipeline and monitoring. None of this is solo work – but you need to be the coordinator and the unfailing central point of reference for bid leads, consultants, and administrative assistance.

The secondary task is to grow into ensuring that the business runs smoothly and works dynamically to increase impact, reach, and profit, freeing the Managing Partner from operational responsibilities and working together to create new opportunities.

#bidmanagement #consulting #publicservices #operations

Commissioning is dead.

The idea, first seriously introduced in the UK around 2010, has been associated with the ‘purchaser/provider split’, competitive tendering, and outsourcing.

The integrated care white paper removes the NHS reforms which were most symbolic of this, so it’s time to acknowledge that the long-heralded event has come. It is a dead parrot.

But the idea that it’s the job of government to:

  • spend money…
  • for services…
  • to meet needs…


This puts the ‘commissioner’ and their budget at the centre of the universe. It assumes the solution is to provide services. And it focuses on needs, deficits, problems.

We need to replace it with

  • experimenting and learning…
  • how to influence complex systems…
  • to achieve better outcomes for citizens and communities.

It’s the difference between contracting for a street cleansing service, and trying to work out how to achieve clean streets.

That’s what, since at least 2010, we’ve been helping people to grapple with, and it’s the mission of The Public Service Transformation Academy

Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning!

Well, what else can we call it? The work is still needed.

The video of my recent presentation is here:

#commissioning #procurement #integratedcare #publicservices

My piece ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’ sets out our concept of transformation: https://www.dropbox.com/s/qev51qihfbgqjnl/commissioning%20is%20an%20approach%20to%20transformation%20%23stateoftransformation%202019.pdf?dl=0

It also acknowledges that the brilliant ‘clean streets’ example comes from Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE.

And that effective, strategic procurement – the quality of thinking, of contracting, contract management, marketing shaping and market engagement needed to buy the street cleansing services that are needed as part of that – is still important and valuable.

The core approach that characterises the sort of commissioning that I believe now needs to be seen as just part of a much bigger picture has most recently been used by The King’s Fund, the identify needs/specify requirements/purchase/contract manage/learn cycle which was introduced in the World Class Commissioning programme in 2010 (predating the Lansley reforms).

And the model of thinking about the real outcomes that people get in their own lives, and the way commissioners can play a humble role in the complex system that creates those results, was also being talked about by Richard Selwyn at exactly the same period.

Of course, all these ideas have a much longer heritage, and are still being explored deeply, and not just in the UK. For thinking about commissioning’s long history and the significant contribution it still has to make, I recommend the work of Professor Gary Sturgess in Australia, where the word still has enormous value, perhaps because it was never simplified and standardised in the way it was in the UK.